“My First Big Job” series

By Ashton Byrum
After the tremendous response to the Broadway Survey series, I’m excited to continue documenting and demystifying various pathways to success for Musical Theatre talents by introducing the new series,”My First Big Job.” With the help of friends and former students in the business, I interviewed actors working at a new level for the first time. While this does include Broadway gigs, I also explored regional theatre & summer stock jobs – as well as Cruise Ships, Internship/Apprentice positions and everything in between. I hope you’ll join us over the next few weeks to learn about what happened at the auditions and how the actors booked the work.


Jake Morrissy – Mamma Mia! at The Paramount Theatre, Aurora, IL  (Sept. 7 – Oct. 30, 2016)

jake-morrissy-headshot1. What show are you doing – and what is your job in the show? Features? Covers?

I am currently performing in the ensemble of the Paramount Theatre’s production of Mamma Mia!

2. Can you describe the audition? Where was it? Was it a dance call, singer call or agent appointment?

The audition for Mamma Mia! took place at the Actor’s Equity Building in downtown Chicago. The Paramount was hosting both an EPA and an ECC and I opted to go to the EPA. I arrived, bright and early, at 8:30am and waited for the doors to open at 9:30am. Although I am EMC (a member of the Equity Membership Candidacy program), I try and arrive as early as I can to make sure that I am seen before the day comes to an end. The amount of people that came to the audition was astounding. They had a lot of appointments scheduled and there was a lot of EMC and non-equity performers that came as well. I was #10ish on the EMC list and was able to be seen by 11am! I entered the room and was greeted by the artistic team (Jim Corti, Trent Stork, Tommy Vendafreddo, and Kaylee Oost.) They asked me to sing the song that I had prepared. I did and was then asked to sing another selection from my book. After that song, I was thanked and left the room.

3. What did you prepare (if you don’t mind sharing)? What did you wear?

Since it is Mamma Mia!, I knew I wanted to bring in a pop/rock song. So, I ended up bringing in “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. Even though it is considered to be an 80’s song, I decided to take it out of its context and give it a more comedic air and fit it a little more to the Mamma Mia style. After singing that song, the MD asked if I had something else, still in the pop/rock genre, but with a little less of a comedic edge and more “real”. So, in the room, I went through my book and chose the 50’s/60’s tune “Runaway” by Del Shannon.

For the audition, I wore a more casual look. I went with a pair of brown ankle boots, kahki ABC pants from Lululemon (BOYS: if you do not own a pair of these, get yourself to a Lululemon and get a pair. The best pants for auditioning. Look like dress pants, stretch like dance pants.), a dark navy plaid button up, and a light heathered grey herringbone zip up. This outfit was chosen because not only does it look presentable, but it is also incredibly comfortable and I can easily move in it.

4. How many callbacks did you have? What did you do? Anything unusual?

For this show, I only had one callback. It was a standard callback where we prepared songs and then learned a dance combination on the spot. Specifically, we were sent the music for “Lay All Your Love on Me”, “Money, Money, Money”, and “Mamma Mia!” and then told to prepare a part for the callback. Once we got to the callback, Tommy (the MD), separated us into groups dependent upon the part we had learned. He paired us in duos and trios depending on the parts needed. We sang and then learned a hip-hop/contemporary dance to the titular song on the spot. After we were taught the combination. we split up into groups of four, and did the dance twice (switching lines each time). After the dance call, I was asked to stay and read a side and then was released after.

5. Did you book this job on the “first try” – or have you been considered for this show/theatre in the past?

I booked this job on the “first try”. I had wanted to audition for this company for a long time and it finally worked out to where I was in town for the auditions and the rest is history!

6. Where did you get your training? Do you have an agent?

I got my training from Millikin University in Decatur, IL. I graduated with a BFA in Musical Theatre in 2014 and have been in the Chicagoland area ever since! At this time, I do not have an agent but I’m looking into getting one!

7. What’s your favorite thing about this job?

My favorite thing about this job is getting to collaborate with this specific group of artists. Everyone brings a huge level of talent, skill, and professionalism to this production and its an exciting opportunity to get to perform with them and learn from them.

Making It To Broadway, Part 4

We wrap up our series today with the fourth article based on the Broadway Survey. In the summer of 2014, 100 actors in Broadway Musicals were asked a series of questions about Educational and Environmental advantages in their journey to Broadway. The results have been intriguing and I am delighted that the Musical Theatre Training blog started with this inspiring information.


NYC, Just got here this morning, Three Bucks, Two bags, One Me (-Martin Charnin)

I want to address something that I’ve treated as a “given” – New York City. I don’t want readers to think that NYC is the only place to do theatre. You can create a satisfying theatre career in many cities – especially in my current town of Chicago. Musical theatre talents can work all over the world in a variety of industries – including opera, commercial music, regional theatre, education, cruise ships and theme parks, Film/TV/Commercials and beyond. But for Musical Theatre performance contracts, the majority of jobs and paychecks still originate in the Big Apple. You may not be working as an actor in the city – but you will need to audition there. If you’re not sure about moving yet, sublet an apartment and stay there for the summer – try it out. A quick glance at the audition listings in New York vs. any other town, will illustrate where most of the professional shows are hiring actors that sing and dance.

Getting your union card is another big issue for young actors. Many of my students want to know when you should join Actors’ Equity Association. The truth is that there is no right time – it varies for everyone. The actors in our survey were basically split with just a slight majority (52%) that had their Equity card before they moved to New York vs. the 48% that did not. I often say, “You’ll know”. You can earn your card by getting offered a union contract, working your way up through the Equity Membership Candidacy program, or buying in from SAG/AFTRA. There may also be additional dynamics to consider when turning union in a city other than NYC. Will you get less work? Maybe. But you can get seen at all of the union auditions with your Equity card – which is a huge advantage in a city like New York with many more actors. The alternative is to hope they are seeing non-union performers at the end of the day – or at some other open call. To be clear, there are also many non-union auditions: Non-Equity tours are completely cast without Equity members, and regional and/or summer stock jobs usually cast their shows with a mix of union and non-union talent. Go to the Actors’ Equity Association website for more information: www.actorsequity.org.

Our responders were asked about other parts of their lives too. They’re not always going to be in a Broadway show – and if they are, they still have time to do other work. Most of them have artistic careers in multiple other areas. They also work in TV/Film (57%), Voice Overs (25%), Commercials (23%), as Directors/Choreographers (15%), in Photography/Web Design (5%), and the other large group also worked Teaching and Coaching (52%).

At the end of the day, actors are just people. They want to be loved, have a family, and maybe buy their apartment or house. And why shouldn’t they? Many people think actors are exotic gypsies drifting from show to show. Some are – but most are working very hard to be at the top of their game. Just because they love it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t incredibly difficult, exhausting work that takes years of training and constant physical and vocal discipline. When asked if they owned their homes 26% said yes, (5% also owned a second/vacation home – lucky them!) and 69% said not yet! 65% are married or in a committed relationship while 37% are not. And 11% have children – which must be especially challenging with evening performance schedules. But they making it work. The majority (62%) plan to stay in New York permanently, while 38% are getting out of dodge.

I hope you find all of this information useful. I trust that it gives you a clearer perspective on what it takes to make it to Broadway – and what life is like for those that do.

I’ll leave you with the final question: Regarding your journey to Broadway, what is the smartest thing you’ve ever done?

This is what they said…

  • Followed my heart. Not taken a job for money.
  • Fostered good professional and social relationships
  • Not Sure, LOL
  • Be nice and polite! Everybody knows everyone.
  • I stopped trying to fit the musical theater mold and trusted myself and my training.
  • Nurtured contacts
  • Attached myself to a choreorapher who continually works
  • I have learned that it is all fleeting and can be gone in a moment, so it’s important to cherish it while it is still here!
  • Waited my turn
  • Returned to school to complete my education (after leaving to do a national tour)
  • Kept training
  • Kept at it and forged my own path. Also, say yes to every opportunity in your early career.
  • College
  • I did a lot of things for free early in my career for people who are now very successful and took me with them!
  • Study
  • Be easy to work with and make lots of genuine friends. Everyone knows everyone and no one wants to work with someone difficult!
  • Been kind to every person I work with
  • Gotten married
  • Staying determined and showing up.
  • Left the road (stopped touring)
  • Take one day at a time
  • See as much theatre as possible
  • Stayed positive.
  • Trust God
  • I was extremely dedicated to being prepared. Dance technique, vocal preparedness, and acting chops.
  • Summer stock
  • Always say yes to everything starting off
  • Take classes continuously… Keep learning
  • Taken loads of classes, whenever I’m stuck I take class…
  • Kept going
  • Be myself
  • Kept in touch with important people in the business
  • I once got fired from a Broadway show (not included in the list above) and decided not to leave the business.
  • Got involved with an acting studio with a phenomenal teacher
  • Stuck with it.
  • Never gave up. 🙂
  • Took classes to get to know casting directors
  • Always keep training and challenging yourself.
  • Watched and listened to the people with whom I’ve worked; directors, choreographers, fellow actors
  • Allowed myself to grow and change as a person.
  • Followed my heart
  • Left my pride at the door and auditioned for everything that i could.
  • Learned to play multiple instruments!
  • Move to New York City.
  • Not given up, and been as prepared as possible
  • Be my own advocate. Don’t rely on agent to do everything for you.
  • My advice: really train your craft in school and then make yourself as available as you can after (singing for benefits, making new friends and participating in their projects, going to dance class where the teacher is in a position of casting people for their shows). Observe as much theatre/art/life as possible and continue to learn from that (as well as advice and stories from people who have been in the business for some time) and apply what you learn to yourself. Most importantly be passionate about what you do. It’s very important that your heart is in it because it will show in your performance.
  • Pragmatically, my parents making sure I always had solid training (vocal, acting classes/private coachings, dance) is what has most prepared me for a Broadway career (which I now continue as an adult). Mentally/Emotionally, having a strong understanding that this business comes with no guarantees, and taking it month by month, year by year, and putting my faith and trust in God!
  • Dropped out of college and worked
  • Audition all the time – at first!

Making it to Broadway, Part 3

As Broadway hopefuls begin to investigate college theatre programs, what do they look for? To what kinds of schools do professional musical theatre performers go? What do they study and what is the most important thing they learn? I asked our survey group those very questions – so read on! If you’re just joining us, this series of articles is based on a survey of 100 actors currently working in Broadway Musicals. The survey was a series of questions regarding Educational and Environmental Advantages for Actors working on Broadway and was taken throughout the summer of 2014. Check out the previous articles to read about background, early training, first professional jobs and joining the union.

For this blog entry – I decided to share specific answers grouped by SHOW. This reveals trends in education and training style, but also presumed skill sets and possibly even casting aesthetics. To be fair – the survey did not cover every actor in every Broadway Musical or favor any one group, but serves as a random sampling. Some shows had 10 or more responders – and some had very few. I think it all evens out in the end.

Types of Colleges the Actors attended – By Show

(The number of responders is listed next to Show title)

Slide2(Click to Enlarge)

Broadway professionals may find that these results highlight perceived casting preferences for the type of actor that graduates (or doesn’t) from a certain kind of educational institution. For the shows with a large number of responders – can we draw conclusions from these percentages? Can we discover what skills or abilities these actors might bring into the audition room based on what kind of school they attended? Seven out of twelve responders in Phantom of the Opera attended a Large University, while 3 attended a Conservatory and just one from Liberal Arts or Certificate programs – and everyone graduated (no drop outs in the Phantom group!). Should we take into consideration the fact that Phantom has been running for over two decades – and the cast isn’t as young as some in the other shows? Certainly, BFA degrees in Musical Theatre are commonplace now – but 20 years ago there were many less colleges offering that degree. In contrast, the responders from the cast of the Les Miserables revival were more likely to graduate from a Liberal Arts Institution, followed by a Large University – then Conservatory. The third large sampling came from the now-closed Bullets Over Broadway. Those actors were more evenly spread between Large Universities (3), Conservatories (2), Liberal Arts Institutions (4), Certificate programs (1) and even those that didn’t attend college (2).

What is it about Cinderella, Jersey Boys, Matilda and Beautiful that makes those shows have a majority of Conservatory graduates? (Again – not every cast member participated in the survey, but those are the numbers we have.) The entire group was represented a bit differently – with 33% graduating from Large Universities and another 33% from Conservatories, 26% attended Liberal Arts Institutions, 2% attended a Certificate program – and 6% didn’t attend college at all.


What type of degree is better? I’m not sure anyone will ever prove one degree is preferred by actors, directors or casting agents, but the BFA degree is by far the most common degree among the Broadway actors we surveyed.

Slide3(Click to Enlarge)

The BFA Graduates are the majority in almost every show group. The exceptions are some of the smaller samples (Matilda, Gentlemen’s Guide…) and notably – Phantom of the Opera did not have a majority of BFA graduates, nor did Cabaret (which might speak to the special casting needs of finding Actor/Musicians for the Roundabout Theatre version of that show). In conservatory training, one is rarely able to study “something else” outside of your curriculum (like a musical instrument). So, unless you played in elementary or High School – you aren’t picking up an instrument for the first time in college while working towards a rigorous BFA. Frankly, if you’ve never played an instrument before college – it is unlikely that you will attain professional level skills in four years anyway.


The third chart for this portion of the study reveals college major by show.

Slide4  (Click to Enlarge)

You may notice information that prompts some broad generalizations about certain shows. Beautiful, Book of Mormon, Cinderella, Jersey Boys, and Matilda have a majority of responders that studied Musical Theatre – with Bridges of Madison County, Kinky Boots, Pippin and Wicked showing at least 50% of respondents also majoring in Musical Theatre.

You may notice that Bullets Over Broadway has slightly more variety – with another large portion of the group majoring in Acting as does Mamma Mia, Kinky Boots, and Les Miserables. Similarly – Cabaret and Phantom have fairly large groups on Vocal Performance/Music majors, which makes sense.

The Most Important Thing You Learned in College

Well, a subtitle like that sounds ominous, right? But when creating this survey – I thought it would be useful to discover the ONE lesson that theatre graduates valued most. A few declined to answer – but here’s the list:

  • To find my individuality
  • I learned a solid acting technique, how to self-assess, to continue growth
  • Hard work will pay off and to have patience!
  • Trust yourself.
  • Time management
  • To be a good person first and a good artist second.
  • To make each character I portray truthful and honest.
  • Continue to study and be open to opportunities.
  • Technique/discipline
  • Diverse styles of acting, methods and training.
  • Be yourself.
  • Always say yes. Be yourself. Always be kind.
  • I didn’t really care for my Program.
  • Perseverance and attention to detail
  • Preparation
  • That I am enough.
  • What my process is, and how to find my process. Learning the many different ways to come about approaching a character- it could be physical first, or vocal, or through the text, the many different ways to find a fully realized person onstage. I feel like I have so many tools to choose in my tool box.
  • The business of show business. (Contracts, unions, etc.)
  • Fend for yourself.
  • My type
  • The business side of being an actor.
  • Tap and voice and a sense of professionalism
  • Well-rounded training in all three areas.
  • I can not pick one thing that was the most important. Maybe the development of a process to approach acting and singing work.
  • Show up and do your job well.
  • How to survive when you were not working!
  • Work harder than you think you have to.
  • How to act a song
  • I majored in Music (general BA degree, primarily history and theory) and had access to vocal instruction but otherwise had no professional training before graduating from college.
  • Appreciation for other aspects of the business (stage craft, costume design & wardrobe, etc). I actually had to ‘unlearn’ quite a bit once I transitioned to the professional world.
  • I tried to be part of the Musical Theatre program for years, and I was never accepted. So the most important thing I learned was that rejection is a huge part of the business.
  • Being a balanced performer. Good reputation
  • Be on time! Don’t burn bridges.
  • I am not certain that this question, or the other questions pertaining to formal, academic training, necessarily apply to my journey. I graduated high school with my Equity card and began working in stock and semi-professional theatre for the years immediately following my graduation from HS…within several years I began working regionally, which catapulted me to a Broadway debut, and (very fortunately) a fairly consistent run on and off-Broadway, in National tours and in some fantastic regional theatres. It wasn’t until recently (2010) that I decided to achieve my BA through online education, in hopes that it – along with my professional work history – would help me to find a suitable MFA program in either Directing or Pedagogy.
  • Only attended college 1 year — but learned the most in my “Musical Theater Lab” class about preparing and acting songs for auditions.
  • That I should have something I want to say – and how to make my own work.
  • It can’t be only one thing. (Maybe THAT’S the most important thing.)
  • Acting/text analysis
  • How to incorporate acting into singing a song and acting while dancing all while having strong technique and tools in each individual aspect of performing (dancing, singing, acting)
  • Acting the song over solely relying on voice
  • I only stayed one year, and no acting classes were available to Freshmen.
  • How to interact well with others…not a class, but true!
  • Acting Technique
  • Love what you do
  • Keep working!
  • How to be a better musician.
  • I learned so much there but most importantly I learned an incredible worth ethic and that this business is not always about who deserves it the most- I learned to be okay with rejection at a young age and that has really helped me.
  • I truly understand my voice and have excellent singing technique
  • How to analyze a script.
  • Nothing
  • Professional Connections are what make or break you in show business.
  • Hard work
  • Work hard.
  • Know your home base, but try/do everything.
  • I didn’t have the best of programs and didn’t enjoy my time there set all. But I did learn how to belt properly.
  • Never give up and how to maintain a high level of career success.
  • To be myself instead of trying to be like anyone else. to maximize on what makes me special as an individual. There’s only one of me and that’s the most appealing thing about me.
  • Business of the business
  • I studied instrumental music…
  • Be who YOU are!
  • Music Theory, Music History, Musicianship
  • Really to be a nice person
  • To take control of my training and my career. I am the one who knows what I need to succeed.
  • How to sing
  • Audition techniques
  • I am enough.
  • How to conduct myself in an audition and how to train on my own. The value of a strong work ethic.
  • Had a horrible experience. I learned that I was not built for school.
  • History of the art form along with simply discovering my identity as a performer.
  • Discipline
  • Audition book
  • Breathe!
  • In general, it’s better to be an actor first. You’re more interesting, a better performer that way, and much more likely to get the job.
  • I received a Masters Degree in opera – which didn’t prepare me for a musical theater career but it did teach me solid vocal technique.
  • I learned how to become an actor, and to stop trying to imitate what I see in theater and begin CREATING.
  • Well roundedness was the best thing I was taught through the training at my school. I did not come in with any dance experience, and through the curriculum, I came out of school with good basic training in not only singing and acting, but in dance as well.
  • That the business is cut throat and not what I had expected
  • To work hard – to perfect each performance or audition
  • Theater is a celebration of life.
  • I was taught to honestly assess the level of my skills
  • If you are not at the highest caliber of a singer, you will not be able to compete on the “Broadway level” field for Musical Theatre.
  • That it’s a business. And you have to treat it as such.
  • Diversity of acting curriculum
Composer Adam Wagner presents a Master Class with Musical Theatre Students at Columbia College Chicago

You Finished College – now what?

So let’s get to the point – professional employment. What are the details about our actors’ current jobs? How did they get the gig? When? What happened before that?

Broadway experience is a rare achievement – many people work for it, few attain it, and luck plays a huge part. Being in the right place at the right time (and the right size) is often the key. Happily, 35% of our actors are making their Broadway debut. When asked how many Broadway shows they’d been in (including this one) 21% said two, 14% said three, 13% said four, 5% said five, and 12% said six or more. It is interesting that the numbers even out (somewhat) after the first shot. Luck plays less of a factor – and reputation kicks in.

Some of you may know that Actors’ Equity Association (the professional actors’ union) offers several contracts for the road as well. These National Tours can be “Broadway National Tours” – or pay considerably less. Either way, another great gig – and they are often the road company of a current Broadway show (22% had been on the road with their current show – prior to booking the Broadway company). When asked “how many National Tours have you done?” – the responses were similar to the Broadway question above. Most actors had performed in one or two (33% and 34% respectively). Work in three national tours dropped significantly to just 11%, with 15% stating that had done four or more. 6% said one of these jobs had been a non-union tour. (This leaves roughly 20% and we can presume that they haven’t worked on a National Tour).


The audition process for a Broadway show can be long and arduous (or surprisingly short and sweet), and you might get seen several times – over several years before landing the job. 63% of our responders were members of the original cast – lucky them! This figure would explain why just over 52% were cast in their current show from the first round of auditions. But many were seen several times: 24% were cast after being seen at two different rounds of auditions; 7% were cast after the third round, 4% were seen 4 different times, Just 1% were seen five times – and a full 11% were seen at 6 or more different auditions. These findings are proof that you must stick with it. I was finally cast in my first national tour after being seen for almost every other male role in the show. It was a great gig – you just keep working towards that goal.

One other important aspect of building a career as an actor is the relationship you build with the casting directors. When they call you in – they want you to be the one the directors choose. It makes their job easier! Your job is to be prepared and on your game – every time. Do this and they will rely on you and will be happy to call you in whenever they can. Our Broadway actors were asked, “Before you booked your current show, when were you first seen by the casting office?” 11% were seen at an Equity Chorus Call. 5% were seen at an EPA – also known as an Equity Principal Audition. These auditions usually require lining up early in the day, signing up for a three-minute appointment, and auditioning for someone from the casting office for that particular show. 4% were seen at an open call – an audition where union status is not necessary and the producer (casting office) runs all aspects of the audition. 1 person was seen at an industry showcase and 4% answered “not applicable” for their situation. The majority of our actors (51%) were first seen by the casting office at an Invited Call or Agent appointment. These auditions are closed to the public – and you must have your agent get you in, or the Casting Office invites you to the audition. Possibly because they’ve cast you in something else (23% of our actors listed this as they’re “way in”) or seen you at another audition and received positive response from bringing you in for other show.

We’ve explored the some of the pathways to Broadway in this article. Check in soon for the final post in this series where we will explore life beyond the Broadway gig.